The former No. 1 overall draft pick played just six games in a Panthers uniform before the team released him Monday. Boardroom explores how things got to this point.
Entering the 2022 NFL season, the Carolina Panthers took a shot on Baker Mayfield, acquiring the 2018 No. 1 overall pick from the Cleveland Browns in exchange for a 2024 conditional fifth-round draft pick in the offseason.
Fast-forward five months and we can now officially say it was a failed experiment. On Monday, after Mayfield himself reportedly asked to be waived, Carolina put wheels in motion to grant his request.
In 2022, Mayfield went just 1-5 under center in Carolina. His stats weren’t much better, completing a career-low 57.8% of his pass attempts and throwing only six touchdowns. He also surrendered six interceptions and boasted the second-worst total QBR (18.2) for any quarterback since 2006.
The Panthers really didn’t have much to lose other than that draft pick. Carolina paid $4.85 million of Mayfield’s salary in the deal, while the Browns paid the remaining $10.5 million.
Mayfield, who’s still only 27 years old, will now hit the waiver wire a few months ahead of the offseason that was supposed to mark the first free agency of his career.
Mayfield lost his job in Cleveland after one playoff appearance in four seasons. The Panthers, meanwhile, entered training camp expecting to hold a training camp battle between Sam Darnold and PJ Walker. While Darnold just returned recently from injury and stepped in as the starter, Walker has also gotten his chances under center in the wake of Darnold’s previous injury and Mayfield’s poor play.
What Did Carolina Get Wrong?
Acquiring Mayfield wasn’t much of a high-risk move, all things considered. Remember, it’s been quite the campaign for Carolina, which fired head coach Matt Rhule and then traded superstar RB Christian McCaffrey in the midst of playing three different QBs. A few things worth noting, however:
- The Panthers coughed up $4.85 million for a historically bad season from Mayfield.
- They handed Cleveland a fifth-round pick for the 2024 draft.
- Darnold and Walker are a combined 3-4 at starting QB this season (Walker is 2-4, Darnold is 1-0).
What does this tell future quarterbacks — or any free agent, for that matter — considering whether to sign with this team in the future? You’re looking at constant turnover rather than any real consistency.
With the admitted benefit of hindsight, it seemed a bit counterintuitive for this team to snag Mayfield in the first place. Darnold is 25 years old and went third overall after Baker in 2018, while Walker has been a backup in Carolina for three years. Neither are long-term solutions; this three-headed quarterback shuffle brought forth more mediocrity under center than needed.
So, What Happens Now?
What’s next for Baker Mayfield
With Mayfield asking to be released, there’s a good chance someone thinks he can get the job done. The 49ers could be a landing spot, but they’re 25th in the league’s waiver order as of this writing. Other teams like the Rams, who recently placed quarterback Matthew Stafford on the IR, might snag him on a low-risk deal to avoid complete embarrassment. They’re fourth on the waiver wire and don’t have a first-round pick this year.
Whoever claims the underachieving QB will owe him $1.3 million for the rest of the year.
What’s next for the Carolina Panthers
Despite all the drama that’s unfolded for the 4-8 Panthers, they still find themselves in playoff contention. They’re 1.5 games back from the first-place Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the subpar NFC South division. They’ve found some reasons to feel good (again, all things considered) with interim head coach Steve Wilks igniting the team a bit, posting a 3-4 record since starting 1-4 under Rhule in an NFC South division that currently features zero teams at or above .500.
D’Onta Foreman has shown out in the six games since taking over for McCaffrey, averaging 88 yards per game with four rush touchdowns. He’s earning only $2 million this year and will hit unrestricted free agency this offseason.
With a solid (interim) head coach and lead running back and seven picks to work with in the 2023 NFL Draft, Carolina should be dead-set on securing its QB of the future — one who it can develop with some level of continuity and trust going forward. CJ Stroud or Bryce Young come to mind immediately, but they’re far from the only potential solutions.
Otherwise, we’re talking about a team that hasn’t had the same starting QB on opening day in consecutive seasons since Cam Newton in 2017 and 2018. Since then, they’ve shuffled between Kyle Allen ($1 million), Teddy Bridgewater ($63 million), Sam Darnold ($18 million), and Mayfield ($4.9 million).
Perhaps they’ll find their guy this offseason — but it won’t be Baker.
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